Councillors have agreed to keep on snooping on the public – even for trivial matters – despite a government pledge to use spying powers only to tackle serious crimes.
They made the decision at a meeting of the cabinet of Brighton and Hove City Council.
The council cabinet accepted a report which said: “The new coalition Government has made a commitment to ban the use of powers contained within the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) by councils unless they are authorised by a magistrate and required for stopping serious crime.”
But it also said: “It is essential that officers are able to use the RIPA powers for all
crimes regardless of how trivial some may be perceived.”
It added that other methods of enforcement should be exhausted.
And it said: “Consideration was given to recommending that cabinet stipulate those crimes that were trivial and therefore the powers referred to in the report should never be used.
“This approach is not considered necessary given the level at which authorisations are made.”
Authorisations to carry out surveillance are given by senior officers of the council.
The rules have already been tightened up after concern that public authorities likecouncils were using surveillance techniques in an inappropriate manner, the report said.
The council cabinet said that snooping should be authorised only when it was in accordance with the law, is necessary and proportionate. And officers can snoop but councillors are not supposed to be involved in individual cases.
“This means,” the report said, “that they must establish whether other less invasive methods to obtain the information have been considered and balance the right of privacy against the seriousness of the offence under investigation.”
From November last year to the end of July council chiefs agreed to seven new cases of surveillance operations targeting members of the public while rejecting one application to snoop.
Eight existing surveillance operations were cancelled during the same nine-month period.
Additionally, in three cases council bosses went through phone, email or internet records while carrying out investigations.
The report can be read by clicking here.